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Have We Become a World of Addicts?

Smartphone AddictionI recently called a plumber to my home, but he arrived two hours late because the previous customer had a complicated and unusual problem. When I asked what the problem was, he told me that she had dropped her iPhone in the toilet and it got stuck.

The plumber told the customer that the only way to get the phone out was to break the toilet and install a new one. She agreed, and he spent a couple of hours dealing with that mess. She, in turn, spent a lot of money—without even knowing if the phone would work again!

At the time, I were dumbfounded that anyone would go to such extremes for a phone—even an iPhone.  And who would want to use the phone again after its swim in the toilet? Not me!

People Are Overly Attached to Smartphones

But the more I thought about it, I realized that many people have become overly attached, obsessed with and even addicted to their smartphones. In New York City, where I work, the nightly march to Penn Station is often slowed down by people gabbing away on their phones. Some even slow down escalator traffic (yes, New Yorkers really do walk up and down escalators) because they're talking or texting on their phones. Believe me, when you're racing for a train, that's infuriating.

And let's not even get into the people who talk or text while driving. They're the scourge of the highways, yet they seem oblivious to the risks they're creating for themselves and everyone in their vicinity.

Smartphone addiction can cause other problems, as well, including lost productivity and poor work performance, which can have serious career repercussions. It can also have a negative impact on relationships with family and friends. Who needs a face-to-face conversation when you can chat online? 

Separation Anxiety Over a Phone?

We've covered smartphone addiction in stories and slideshows on our Baseline and CIO Insight Websites, going as far back as 2011's "Sure Signs of Smartphone Addiction."  Around the same time, the term "nomophobia" (no-mobile-phone phobia) was coined to identify people who become anxious or agitated if they don't have their smartphone nearby.

Really? They have separation anxiety over a phone? As someone who, in my teenage years, carried a quarter in my shoe in case I had to make an emergency call, I find this behavior unfathomable. 

Breaking the Device Addiction

What can smartphone addicts do to break the hold these devices have on them? Just like dealing with an addiction to drugs, alcohol or food, it requires a true desire to change. It also requires a willingness to set limits on smartphone use: x number of hours a day—and never during work hours, sleep hours, or when sharing time with family or friends. It may even require locking the phone up during those times and deleting the apps that are most addictive.

Let me clarify: I'm actually a big fan of smartphones. They're essential devices when you need to get in touch with someone—or when they have to reach you. And being able to catch up with emails while on the train is a terrific time-saver. In fact, it would be hard to imagine our personal or professional lives without them.

However, smartphones are simply tools—great tools, but tools nonetheless. They shouldn't be a tech replacement for a blankie.

Eileen Feretic

Eileen Feretic is editor in chief of Baseline and editorial director of eWEEK, CIO Insight and Channel Insider. She has more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor in the technology industry, working at QuinStreet, Ziff Davis, IBM and Hearst.

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